Some people stepping down from a cabinet-level post in the federal government — no less the demanding job of secretary of Homeland Security — might call it a day. Instead, Janet Napolitano became the first woman to head the University of California, which boasts 10 campuses, more than 260,000 students, five medical centers, three affiliated national laboratories, a statewide agriculture and natural resources program, and an annual operating budget of $28.5 billion. Napolitano has tackled some of the most challenging issues facing higher education since she took office at UC in September 2013, and in many respects has led the charge. She engineered an overhaul of the university’s policies on sexual violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment to ensure that members of the UC community feel safe and respected; launched initiatives to identify ways to feed the world’s population and seek solutions to climate change, setting a deadline of 2025 to make UC the first research university system to achieve carbon neutrality in its operations; invested in programs and infrastructure to speed up the transfer of basic research from the laboratory to society and the marketplace; and stabilized funding for the university while ensuring that financial aid fully covers the tuition of 57 percent of California undergraduates.

Napolitano is used to breaking ground. She was the first woman to serve as attorney general of Arizona (1999-2003) and the first to be secretary of Homeland Security (2009-13). Immediately before her cabinet post, she served as governor of Arizona (2003-09). Before taking elected office, she served for four years as U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona. Throughout, she made time to visit UVA Law repeatedly to pass on her experiences to students. In 2010 she returned to speak about public service while being honored with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law. The medals are the highest external honor the University gives.

Napolitano, the Law School’s commencement speaker in 2007, told graduates it would be up to them to figure out where to alter the law and where to leave it alone. “Never forget that being an attorney is not just a job, it is a calling — it is a way of life,” she said.

Promoting Inclusion and Opportunity in Higher Education

Monica Lozanoby Monica Lozano, chair of the University of California Board of Regents

When Janet Napolitano was named president of the University of California in the fall of 2013, she immediately became the target of criticism and even protests because of her previous role as secretary of Homeland Security, where she oversaw enforcement of immigration laws.

However, to those familiar with President Napolitano’s record in public service, it is no surprise that one of her first meetings as UC president was with undocumented students.

Unbeknownst to many of these students, she had advocated persistently for comprehensive immigration reform, both as governor of the border state of Arizona and Homeland Security secretary. She had designed and implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the directive known as DACA, which has allowed three-quarters of a million young people to work and attend college without fear of deportation.

Today, President Napolitano is a recognized champion of undocumented students.

As chair of the UC Board of Regents for the past two years, I have worked closely with her as she has taken on these critical issues.

She didn’t just meet with undocumented students. One of her first actions, in October of 2013, was to allocate $5 million for services supporting undocumented students. A year later, the Office of the President and UC Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic launched the Undocumented Student Legal Services Center to make legal services available throughout the 10 UC campuses.

Last year, she earmarked $8.4 million over three years for a loan program, student services and legal services for undocumented students, estimated to number 3,800.

And this year, President Napolitano and all 10 UC chancellors affirmed that they would continue to support undocumented students at UC’s campuses.

There are many other challenges President Napolitano has taken on, but what she has done to support and protect undocumented students clearly illustrates her strong and decisive leadership style — and her values of inclusion and opportunity for all.




UVA Lawyer

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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